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I had a job-interview for another company where HR asked me if I've ever received feedback from my boss on how I should improve. I told them that honestly I've never received such feedback. Later on they asked me whether I had myself thought about how I could improve, which was a question I could answer to.

What did they mean with the first question? Did they want to know if I ever had a PIP?

This happened in Germany, if it's relevant.

  • Were you asked this by your current employer's HR department, or a prospective employer's HR department? If the former, perhaps they're looking into whether your manager is doing their job properly (your manager should be giving you feedback regularly). – alroc Mar 24 '17 at 12:41
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    Edited the question: it was a prospective employer's HR – Noldor130884 Mar 24 '17 at 12:50
  • Possible duplicate of Tough curveball interview questions – gnat Mar 24 '17 at 13:34
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    @Noldor130884 You just said "it's never happened" and described instances when it's happened. Peers are often your best source of helpful critique and that would certainly fit as an answer to what you asked. – Chris E Mar 24 '17 at 15:40
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    You honestly never received any feedback? thats hard to believe. Even having an informal conversation with a boss/co-worker on how you handled some minor thing X and how it could also have been handled is such feedback. getting though the day without ever gtting any feedback seems implausible. – Polygnome Mar 24 '17 at 18:08
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Those are fairly typical questions, and are essentially variations on this common theme:

  • What's your biggest strength?
  • What's your biggest weakness?
  • Tell me about a time you've been wrong

They are all questions aimed at gauging how you handle criticism, whether you're realistic about your own limitations, and whether you're willing to learn/improve.

So when they ask you whether you've "ever received feedback on how you should improve", the correct approach is to make something up even if you never officially have.

Don't say something negative such as

"I was told I'm always late."

Instead, focus on something which demonstrates a willingness to improve without implying incompetence on your part:

My team leader once pointed out that the way in which I was accomplishing "x" in my code was not the most efficient. He described a different technique to me which I researched and then used to improve the performance of my code. As a result my page loaded Y seconds faster, which the users were thankful for.

That answer shows that:

  • You know you're not perfect (no one is, although some people would like to act like it, and it's a big red flag for HR)
  • You gracefully accepted (mild) criticism
  • You took the advice to improve to heart
  • You were willing to learn something new and upgrade your skills/knowledge/technique

Saying that you never received any feedback or advice to improve is - to them - essentially declaring that you're great, don't need to try any harder, etc. Instead have a couple of anecdotes ready to demonstrate that you're humble, willing to admit fault, learn, etc.

If necessary, make something up. You know that their purpose in asking that question is to gauge your ability to learn and accept criticism, so give them what they want. If you can't think of a situation where that exact scenario took place, adapt and improvise. Simply answering "No" will send the wrong message, even if it's an honest one.

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    @Noldor130884 - you seem to be missing the point. If the real-life answer is "No", then make something up. You know that their purpose in asking that question is to gauge your ability to learn and accept criticism, so give them what they want. If you can't think of a situation where that exact scenario took place, adapt and improvise. Simply answering "No" will send the wrong message, even if it's an honest one. – AndreiROM Mar 24 '17 at 13:08
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    @Noldor130884 - sounds like you let your ego answer the question for you. I'm not trying to say you're full of yourself, but when you're trying to prove how willing to learn and humble you are (essentially what an interview is about for programmers), you can't let pride get in the way. Saying of course I didn't ... because ... is already the wrong way to look at the situation, no matter how good what follows that "because" is. – AndreiROM Mar 24 '17 at 13:39
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    "I haven't before. Not saying I've not made a mistake, because <reason 1>, but had I gotten negative feedback there, I would have done <response 1>" is what I think when I read "Make something up". Less "obfuscate" and more "figure out a way to answer their question". – SliderBlackrose Mar 24 '17 at 15:33
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    "If necessary, make something up." I disagree with this. The ethical aspect is one reason, but also, lying always puts you in shaky territory. It may be hard to pull off convincingly, especially if they ask follow-up questions. I think a better response is to be honest, but talk about something related that highlights what they are looking for. If you haven't received direct feedback on your performance from your boss, I would talk about ways you sought out self-improvement or expert advice, or a non-work setting where you responded constructively to criticism. – user45590 Mar 24 '17 at 16:09
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    @Ryan I'd agree. Question was whether OP had received feedback on how to improve. If you say "My boss told me that I could do X better by Y, so I researched and implemented Y to great success," that sounds good. In this case, you're your own boss, and you gave yourself feedback. – Delioth Mar 24 '17 at 20:47
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It's a variation of the standard "What is your strength/weakness" questions with a stealth question to see if you've been disciplined in the past.

Nothing strange about it.

The first question was to see if you've been disciplined.

The second was to ask what your weaknesses are and how (and if) you are going about to resolve them.

  • I still have a feeling that the second question was asked because I answered "none" to the first one. I mean, this wasn't about pride... If I ever was disciplined, I wouldn't tell you. If I wasn't what would you expect that I would answer to that? – Noldor130884 Mar 24 '17 at 13:01
  • @Noldor130884 Interview questions are never asking what they are asking. They're reading your reactions to the questions as much as your answers. Of course you'd never tell me if you'd been disciplined, but I can tell by your reaction to the HR feedback question if you had or ntoe – Retired Codger Mar 24 '17 at 13:40
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    I don't see the first question as asking about discipline but rather to get him talking about himself in an introspective anner. It likely would have led to follow-ups like "and what did you do about that feedback" and "did you agree? Why not?" or "since you didn't agree with it, what did you do?" So much of interviewing isn't even to get information but more of a personality test. It's an easy way to see if the candidate is full of himself, arrogant or just lacking in any self-awareness. – Chris E Mar 24 '17 at 15:43
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    I agree with @Noldor130884 that the second question does seem like a follow-up because the first question didn't get the desired information. But I also think there's nothing wrong with that, as long as the response to the second question was solid. – user45590 Mar 24 '17 at 16:11
  • @dan1111 Maybe then they understood my misinterpretation. My reply to the second question was absolutely solid – Noldor130884 Mar 27 '17 at 5:48
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It is possible that they were looking to see how you handled receiving feedback and how open you are to change after the feedback is received.

For many people, pride is major issue and they do not handle feedback very well and are resistant to changing their ways.

There is benefit of having an employee who is open to receiving improvement feedback and is open to change based upon that feedback.

  • Isn't it very similar (if not the same) of "what is your weakness" or "how do you think you could improve"? I mean... It is strange not to have heard that question instead. – Noldor130884 Mar 24 '17 at 13:00

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